Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the motion introduced by my colleague from Davenport, calling on the government to ban all pay-to-pay practices by banks operating in Canada through the enactment of a mandatory code of conduct to protect consumers.
I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.
I am an MP from the city of Toronto and Toronto is a place that has very high housing costs. We have a wait list of over 90,000 households trying to get affordable, subsidized housing in the city of Toronto. Barely 50% of workers in the GTA have some kind of job security. They have seen the amount of precarious work jump by 10% since 2011. Just recently, the Toronto Dominion Bank estimated that the wage gap between precarious and permanent employment was as high as $18,000 a year.
Toronto, which is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, is finding that racialized workers have experienced a 30% increase in precarious employment since 2011. Poverty is increasing. Almost 10% of Torontonian seniors live in poverty. That is the most recent data since 2011 because of the undermining of our Statistics Canada data by the government. However, what we do know is that many seniors do not use the Internet. In 2013, in the U.S., about 59% of seniors used the Internet. Internet is significantly down for those who live in subsidized housing.
The reason I give these statistics about the city of Toronto and the people who live there is the fact that bank fees, which are unregulated by the government, are costing Canadians, costing Torontonians up to $180 million a year. This is like a private sector tax that the government is allowing on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Seniors, newcomers, low-income Canadians are paying up to $180 million in really what is a private sector tax.
What am I talking about here? I am talking about the practice of banks charging customers a fee just to get a paper bill. For over 100 years, people have been receiving bills through the mail, either for utilities, or other accounts and then they go to the bank and pay their bill or they make out a cheque and send it through the mail. However, in 2011, Canadians started noticing charges appearing on their bill for the simple privilege, which I thought was a right, to receive a bill in a paper copy.
For seniors, that is the way a lot of them liked to bank. My mother was absolutely incensed when Bell Canada sent her a bill and charged her a couple of dollars for the privilege. She phoned it and was furious. She had been a customer for 60 years, had never been late with a payment, and suddenly it decided to charge her an extra couple of bucks for the privilege of paying a bill. Someone likened it to someone handing us a bill in a restaurant and then giving us an additional bill for a couple of bucks because he or she was handing us a bill.
If we buy a table in a department store and it charges a couple of dollars to give a receipt for the table, that is absolutely ludicrous. I want to thank my colleague from Davenport. He began campaigning on this and called it his “ending of pay-to-pay fees”; that is having to pay just for the privilege of paying a bill. He has noted quite rightly that it disproportionately affects seniors, low-income Canadians, newcomers to Canada, people who like to get paper copies or people who perhaps do not have access to the Internet, like more than 40% of Torontonians who live in subsidized housing. In Toronto community housing, people do not have access to computers.
Most Canadians agree with the right of people to get bills without additional fees. Forty per cent of Canadians have said that they are just not comfortable banking online, but three-quarters of Canadians disapprove of charging Canadians for getting bills or statements. Most Canadians believe this is just the cost of doing business. Businesses invoice people and send the bills through the mail. That is the cost of doing business and it is accommodated appropriately in business plans.
The New Democrats have been talking to Canadians across the country. They have been signing petitions, emailing, phoning their MPs and going into constituency offices demanding action to get rid of these pay-to-pay fees. After strong pressure from the New Democrats, the government finally decided to take action on utility bills, but, inexplicably, left the banks out. It is very difficult to understand why the banks would be excluded from this. They are doing quite well. In the first quarters of their fiscal years, Canada's big banks have amassed more than $16 billion in profits. RBC, just one of the major banks, has broken records by pulling in about $5 billion in the first half of this year.
The point is that it is not like the banks are on the brink of bankruptcy. The banks are doing extremely well, yet not only have they been charging people to pay their bills but they thought this year it would be a good idea to start charging people to make payments on their lines of credit and mortgages. I am sure they thought that was a very good idea that would add even more profit to their bottom lines, but Canadians were absolutely outraged by it and have forced the banks to backtrack on it. However, Canadians should be comparatively outraged by the $180 million that banks are ripping off from people by nickel and diming them $2 at a time. Even these fees have been increasing.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has recommended that the government follow through on its commitment to eliminate the application of additional fees charged to Canadian consumers to receive any paper bill or statement. Certainly, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons has spoken out against this. It knows how angry seniors are by the charge just to get a bill from the bank. It says that it hardly seems fair that customers, through no fault of their own, are being charged $2 for the privilege of paying a bill.
We do not need the wishy-washy voluntary code of conduct that the Conservative government has put forward. We need strong measures. We need a mandatory code of conduct that bans these extra fees that penalize those who can least afford to pay them. That is what the people of Toronto are telling me and what Canadians are saying right across the country.
I thank my New Democrat colleagues for their strong support for banning pay-to-pay fees. I think the rest of the members in the House will probably support this measure. We need the Conservative government to take action, ban pay-to-pay fees, get tough with their friends in the banks, and benefit Canadian consumers and citizens right across the country.